Friday, April 22, 2011

No Instant Solutions ...

Thus far we have seen what God intended for us in the first section of our study, and then we defined the nature of evil in the next section of our study, now we begin to examine just how the healing process begins and works.  Knowing that evil is so closely linked to pain; inspires us to want to be rid of it.  The knowledge of evil turns out to be a knowledge we could have lived without.  But nonetheless we are where we are and therefore must address it.  Realizing the key to the removal of evil inside of us is in the submission of our will to Christ, we can begin to heal.
But how exactly does one submit his own will to Christ?  This becomes the salient question, how do we apply the theoretical knowledge we have been led to?  My own opinion is that the answer lies in daily prayer.  The timing of these prayers of submission becomes important as well, for me personally the timing is critical.  In my own experience, I find that each day, I must begin by praying the prayer to once again ask God to … “please make my decisions today for me Lord, lead me where you want me to be, bring to me the people who you think I need to see, alter what it is I like, remove what must be removed, and do with me as you will.”  The sentiment is important, the turning over of control is critical, the words should be those you would offer.  For me, this prayer must be offered each morning, and if I wish to have God control even my subconscious at night, each evening as well.
When I forget to offer this prayer, or become distracted by the “critical” things that vie for my attention, I tend to have “bad” days.  Often, victories that Christ has worked within me, are forsaken through my neglect to submit.  Satan is smart.  He leaves me alone for days on end, lulling me into the idea that I am past the point of desiring an old sinful habit.  I begin to get lax in asking God to lead.  I begin to think I don’t have such an immediate problem.  The net effect; I turn the gift of victory inward, and self rears its ugly head.  Left to my own strength I quickly find I am NOT past the sins of my past, as forsaking victory, I bring them into my present.
This begs the question, how can you call it victory if you fail again?  The problem is that we think of victory or loss in self-centered terms.  It is NOT our victory when it comes.  It is Christ alone.  Our failures come from separating ourselves from the source of the victory.  Our failures come, because we “forget” to submit our will for any reason.  We get complacent.  We get arrogant.  We get neglectful.  And we fail as a result.  Removing even the desire for sin, does not prevent us from seeking an old sin out again.  We do this because we fail to submit daily.  When we pray our prayer of submission, we find the victory He so desperately wanted to give us.
So let’s assume that unlike me, you are able to maintain a regimen of asking God to control your life each day without forgetting to do so.  Problems solved right.  Actually yes, but the first time you do this it is NOT going to feel that way.  Imagine for a minute that you are behind the wheel of a car you drive each day.  In our analogy, Christ asks to drive your car today, and instead of your normal routine of failure, we decide to let Him.  This is done in the offering of our prayer to let Him have control.  But now comes the hard part.  We have to sit in the passenger seat, doing nothing really.  We’re like kids on holiday, enjoying the ride.  But at first it is hard to get used to the idea that we do NOT get to touch the accelerator or the brake anymore.  We are moving at the speed He decides is appropriate.  For some of us, this feels way TOO slow.  For others, it feels like the Daytona 500.  But in each case, Christ decides how fast we go.
It gets worse.  Not only do we not get to “control” the speed of our spiritual journey, we do not get any say on the roads He chooses to take.  And my roads are different from yours.  We get involved in traffic situations we do not understand.  We seem to be bumping other vehicles along the way with no apparent explanation.  Being our first time as a passenger, we are decidedly nervous about being driven, even if by our Savior God.  But as time progresses, we begin to relax a little.  We start looking at where He is taking us, and begin to see hope re-emerge on the horizon.  Then it happens.  A semi-tractor trailer truck changes lanes and begins to head right for us.  Our natural inclination, when faced with impending trouble, or a sin we are habitually fond of, is to grab the wheel and turn the car into the ditch.  Up to now, this is what we have always done when faced with temptation – we failed.  Even when we hold firm, we want to turn away so badly we can hardly stand it, and our life is filled with misery as a result.
Here is where the rubber meets the road so to speak – in our new approach we decide to let Christ handle the impending head on collision however He sees fit.  We close our eyes, grab our seats, and decide that whatever the fate, we are going to instead trust our driver to handle it.  He does.  Immediately, He tells us, open your eyes, it’s over.  We realize we are still on road.  We did not hit the truck, the truck is gone, vanished from view.  And we are still rolling along at whatever speed Christ thinks is appropriate.  We are amazed, dumbfounded, and incredibly curious on how that just happened.  We cannot figure out how Christ did what He did.  It makes no sense.  It defies logic.  It is outside of our capacity to rationalize it.  But here we are, still rolling along, still safe.
It would be nice if our analogy could end here, but there is a bit more.  Two things can happen to us at this point in our journey.  We can realize the freedom that comes from sitting in the passenger seat.  We can realize that we have something new to say to the world.  We can tell them what Christ has now done just for us.  We have a testimony.  We have experimental knowledge of how Christ has removed from us, what we could never remove.  We have the freedom that comes from this gift of victory.  And going forward we can become content to be a passenger in our world, ever moving along His roads, at His speeds, to His destinations.  If we can learn to trust Him, over time we will see our trust reaffirmed again and again.  For there will surely be more trucks, and if we continue to trust Him to save us, more victories.
But there are also dangers on our journey.  Instead of being content as a passenger, we begin to get bored, longing for a bit more “influence” on how fast we go, and where we are heading.  We start to think that maybe we can sit back in the driver’s seat once again.  You know, just to help out a little.  After all, Christ must need a break sometimes, from having to drive us around all the time right?  We ask Him to pull over and let us drive for a while.  He does, as it is only at our request that He drives, or does not drive.  We take the wheel ourselves again, and it begins to feel good.  We start thinking that the incidents along the road that He avoided must have been attributed to something we did to help out.  Perhaps it was our good advice.  Perhaps it was our internal goodness.  Maybe these victories came from our subconscious minds anyway, and really never had anything to do with Him.  We begin to think we are good enough to handle our own cars on our own journey.  And we send Him away.
There are two kinds of people in this world: those that must be in the driver’s seat, independent, self-aware, mature, self-controlled, self-disciplined, and self-reliant; and those who can learn to find joy in the passenger’s seat, childlike, immature, completely dependent on others, understanding that everything of value can only come as a gift from Him.  This is what Christ referred to as the Sheep and the Goats in his own analogies in His days of ministry here in our world.  His audience understood them the same way we do.  Sheep are stupid.  They are humble.  They follow, and are content to follow.  They realize their only protection comes from their Shepherd.  Left on their own, they perish.  They have no ideas about where to go, they are led by their Shepherd.  They simply sit back, enjoy the journey, and trust the One who leads them.  Goats too know the Shepherd, but goats have their own ideas about where they should go.  Some think they are capable of defending themselves against the wolves in the world.  Goats know the Shepherd, but they are not content to listen to Him.  They want control.  And they fail as a result.  Instead of following Christ away from the dangers, they head straight into it.  This distinction is based entirely on how a person responds to the permanent release of control of their lives.
Are you a sheep, or a goat?  Are you a passenger or a driver?  Are you a child, or believe yourself to be an adult?  Our culture, our social circles, even our American ideals – ALL encourage the wrong answer.  We are taught self-reliance from birth by everything in the world the evil one can throw at us.  We learn to despise the poor, simply because they are poor.  We argue it is because they do not “choose” to work that they find themselves in their pathetic conditions.  In so doing, we reinforce the idea in our own minds that our conditions come from “our” hard work – not as a result of His blessings and gifts to us.  We begin to believe we are the masters of our own destiny.  We buy into the American dream that anyone can work hard enough to earn themselves into bounty.  And we look down on any who have not achieved this dream as being lazy or unmotivated.  But all of our thinking is backwards.
“The poor will always be with you” Christ said.  It is not because our heavenly Father cares less for the poor; it is because we NEED an example of those who “depend” for their survival.  The poor teach us that despite our success, ALL require saving from a Savior; ALL receive their bounty from the Lord.  As the poor depend on the charity of others for their survival; so ALL depend on the charity of Christ for our own survivals – both physical and spiritual.  To pity the poor, to feel sorry for them, to want to help them out of their poverty – are the exact feelings of our Lord for each of us on a spiritual basis.  We are all hurting, and all require a master physician to heal us.  The healing process must begin, but how we respond to it may alter our future with it.  Will we be the passengers on our journey, the sheep who are led by our Shepherd?  Or will we constantly take back the wheels in our cars, and like the goats offer our own ideas on how to save us?  This is the dilemma of each one.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cleaning the Cesspool ...

There is a program that recently aired entitled “Dirty Jobs”; I can’t think of too many worse than cleaning out a cesspool.  Yet since Adam bit down on forbidden fruit, our lives have continued to degenerate until the point where we just seem mired in evil, a spiritual cesspool if you will, that has the characteristics of quicksand, and the holding power of superglue.   To think to clean this kind of a mess is not something most of would be willing to do were it less of an analogy and more of a reality.  But just because we find ourselves in a pit of despair, is no reason to remain here.  We must begin by realizing it is time to get clean.

But how does one see their own lives move from a veritable cesspool to a clean mountain spring?  Christianity has traditionally offered only one response – will power.  In by gone days the topic of temperance was taught with vigor.  Self-denial is a major tenant of most other world religions, and even in Christianity it has fought hard to remain prominent.  But to accept the idea that it “is” possible for me to clean myself up; is then to admit that apparently I must not have chosen to do so.  Moreover, no one else I know has chosen to get clean either, if this choice is really up to us.  Christians have long quoted scripture to back up their ideas on this topic.  Familiar quotes such as … “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” or “you will never be tempted above what you are able” or “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me” or “if you love Me, keep my commandments”.
At first brush, all of these texts seem to indicate we are supposed to be doing something with our religion.  In short, we are supposed to be “living right”.  Yet despite the seemingly countless admonitions, everyone seems to be STILL sinning.  This failure on our part, to live as the texts indicate we should be living, has led some to believe that it is simply impossible to do so.  Therefore Christ died to make up for our inability to follow His counsel.  Given this, we are free to do whatever, because we are already forgiven, and God knows we cannot keep his laws anyway.  Whole point of a savior right; to save us from the punishment of our evil?  But this thinking does nothing but cheapen grace to no effect.
So what is the disconnect between what scripture says we are supposed to be doing, and our apparent inability to do it?  The answer is that we have put the focus in the wrong place on HOW to accomplish the admonitions that have been written.  Take the words of Christ first when He says … “deny yourself”.  This is not about self-restraint, this is about putting self in its place – dead last.  He tells us to deny that we are the savior of our souls, as is the basis in every other religion on earth.  You are NOT your own savior, you must realize you are in NEED of a savior, and thus only Christ can fill this role.   You must deny that you can do it.  Christ is saying … you need to be saved from evil, start by realizing it is NOT you who will do the work.  He continues … “take up your cross and follow me”.  He means … realize your carnal nature must be killed, in order for Him to re-create you into the new creature you were meant to be.  Like Paul says … “I die daily”.  This is how we achieve, through submission, not control.
When you grasp this concept properly, it is then easier to understand HOW we resist the devil so that he will flee from us.  Rightly understood, Satan never flees from you and I because we are easy prey when left to our own strength.  But, introduce submission of our will to Christ, and it is no longer we who he is left to fight with, it is Christ.  Christ has already beaten him, and the devil knows he cannot defeat Christ, so he then flees as the text suggests.  Never being tempted above what we are able is better understood when human limitations are removed from the equation.  When submitting to Christ, it is no longer our strength against temptation that is put to the test, but rather the divine strength of our Savior, which is able to overcome even the most severely addicting habits we have formed.  A sign of loving Christ is the keeping of His commandments, but this can again only be done if we remove ourselves and our will from the process, and allow His will to be created in us.  Then the keeping of his laws becomes as natural as our breathing, both in spirit, motive, and in action.  Not because of any great work or effort, or prayer that we have prayed – but only because it is His will to Give us this great Gift – our salvation.
Adam lost dominion of this world to Satan so many years ago in the garden.  In so doing, he predestined us to a carnal nature we would all be born to.  We were held slaves of an evil tyrant, until our redeemer came and freed us from bondage.  Christ did not free us so that we could indulge in the pain of evil to an even greater extent by letting go; rather He freed us to remove the pain of evil from out of our lives as the greatest gift He could offer.  We are now freed from the bondage of sin, and liberated from the evil slave master to a benevolent Father who has redeemed us with the purchase of His own flesh and blood.  You will notice that nowhere in this scenario was man ever to reclaim his own dominion.  Christ did not come to put “us” back in charge of our world.  He came and took charge on our behalf.  Man owning his own dominion is not a choice on the table, only to whom he will serve.  We are faced with the freedom of love that removes the pain in our lives, or the terrible addictive destructive slavery to pain that was born in our nature and can only come from the self-service of evil and its leader.
Those who accept the gift our Savior offers find an escape from the nature of our birth.  It is literally to be born again, dying to self, and being resurrected in His image and likeness.  Our nature and inclination to want and do evil does not die by accident, nor does it go down without a tremendous fight.  Once we know the truth of victory, the devil fights hard to keep us from claiming it.  He insinuates that there is always time later to submit, time now to live for number one.  He distracts us with the need to work for our survival, and the constant barrage of “necessary” things that must be accomplished in the day before we can rest or think about God.  He buries us in “busy-ness”.  All of this designed to impede our daily surrender to Christ.  Without this submission of our will, we are easy prey to fall back into old habits designed for our destruction.  Remember we are born with a desire for evil.  It takes a rebirth to remove this desire.  It takes a willingness to allow God to change what we want, what we think we need, and what we think we like.
It is the equivalent of turning the thing we most love over to Christ at the risk of losing it.  This was the dilemma Adam faced and failed.  Adam so loved Eve he could not conceive of risking her separation or loss.  He forgot that as much as he loved Eve, so much more did her Creator.  Had Adam stayed faithful to God, Christ would have come if only to save Eve and restore her to Himself, and to Adam.  But Adam would not trust God with the Salvation of the thing he loved most.  Instead he willed to die with her.  If we are to change, we must face and pass the same challenge.  How many are willing now to submit their marriages to God, and to His will, even if that will is to see them ended for His purposes.  Most believe that God would not ever put asunder a marriage when vows have been exchanged in His name.  But this is not the point.  God never asks for human sacrifice to show loyalty to Him ,,, unless you happen to be Abraham who was asked this exact test.  It is not whether God breaks us up or not that is important, it is our willingness to follow Him if that is His will despite how we feel right now.
Humans are funny creatures.  We can have a romantic love that we could not imagine life without one minute, and over time come to so disdain this person, that we cannot imagine how we ever felt that way in the first place.  Teenagers go through this rollercoaster regularly.  Adults do too, but fail to admit it.  The simple fact is that feelings can change over time.  Given this, it is only in our own best interest to submit even how feel to the correction God may require.  Giving up our desires is the key to begin to understand what He desires for us.  We must get our untrustworthy notions out of the way of His leadership before we can figure out what He wants.  Our desires are inherently evil, and often in our own worst effect.  Unlike Adam, we must be willing to part with the thing we love the most, in order to know if it truly comes from God or not.  It could be a spouse, or a child, or a parent, or a career, or a possession – but whatever it is that we believe we cannot live without, must be submitted at the foot of the cross, even if it means we lose it.
Holding on to a cherished sin, has already demonstrated what it can do to mankind.  There was nothing wrong with Adam loving Eve, the error came from loving her more than he trusted in God to save her.  We are the way we are, because Adam would not risk letting go of Eve.  He simply did not trust God enough to find a way.  Abraham did.  He took his most precious possession to a hill top and began to slay that which he loved without measure, and God was faithful to stop him from doing so.  It was not God’s intent to take Isaac, rather Isaac would lead a blessed life of communion with his father’s God.  It was God’s intent to see if Abraham would do what Adam would not.  Adam failed.  Abraham did not.  What will we do?
Are we to trust the process of saving us from evil?  Are we to take the Lord at His word, and believe that only through submission can we reach the perfection of Enoch?  Or will we, like Adam, hold on to that which we love the most?  Will we like Judas, reject the gift of saving grace, choosing rather to obtain it through our own efforts and merits, believing ourselves to be in partnership with God?  Our lives are cesspools of pain and evil.  We have no cleaning tools, or desire to perform the work.  We must accept the charity of our God in the cleanup that is to be performed.  We must stay out of His way, allowing Him to clean every single spot up.  There is nothing we can hold back from God in the cleaning process.  But the beauty that is found in a life cleaned up by God, is a pure mountain spring, untouched by the corruption of pollution and evil decay.  It is based in the river of life that flows from the throne of our Father God Himself.  This water can flow through us and make us whole, or we can turn away to the filth and sludge we have created.  This is the great choice we must all face and make every day of our lives.  If there is a work for us to perform, it is to be the work of submission, but even in this, our God is faithful.  We must turn to both the author (or originator) and the finisher of our faith, and trust in His never failing promise to save us from the evil of our lives.